Essential Time Travel Reading

The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
The original! Not actually the first time travel story published, but the first in the modern genre. Wells himself would have disagreed with this — as far as he was concerned, it was a scientific romance that satirised Britain in the late nineteenth century, not Richmond in the far future — but the fact is, its legacy will be everlasting. See, for instance …

The Time Ships, by Stephen Baxter
A unique book: a sequel that is not only just as good as the original but which was both written by someone who understood what Wells was getting at and who managed to turn it into a late twentieth century science fiction novel as well. Compulsive stuff.

The Dancers at the End of Time, by Michael Moorcock
A compilation of three novels but available to buy as one. An intricate waltz of different characters through different time zones, marvellously wrought with fine writing and dark humour. (You know, this review blurb stuff is surprisingly easy to write.) Read this one if none of the others.

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers
Time travel of a different sort: a mixture of fantasy and science fiction and dark, evil powers that could be either.

The Lincoln Hunters, by Wilson Tucker
Good luck in finding this one: it’s most likely to be lurking in a secondhand bookshop somewhere. However, as everyone should be made by law to spend at least half an hour in a secondhand bookshop every week, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. A tale of time travel paradox, written in the 1950s, that still holds up in the early twenty first century.

Tomorrow plus X, by Wilson Tucker
Another by Mr T, who had a distinct fondness for the genre. An interesting twist in that it’s set in a society where time travel is an acknowledged theoretical possibility – it just hasn’t been invented yet. But everyone is expecting the time travellers to come …

The End of Eternity, by Isaac Asimov
Catch, if you can, the original version of this (it’s published somewhere: everything Asimov wrote is published somewhere). The novel version was rewritten so as not to clash with his Galactic Empire stories but is a darn good read up until that point: the original version carries on beyond that point to a most atypical, unAsimovian bleak conclusion.

Timescape, by Gregory Benford
A time travel story in which no time travel actually happens: the characters spend their lives at the receiving end of messages from the future. What are they saying? Aha.

Guns of the South, by Harry Turtledove
An alternate history by Harry Turtledove that actually isn’t too bad, thanks mostly to its SF element. Time travelling South African Nazis help Robert E. Lee win the American Civil War … but that happens early on and is almost incidental to the main action, because (as Lee rightly suspects) they have their own agenda once the South has won. Turtledove’s depiction of the fall of Washington and the post-war political scene is detailed and convincing, and President Lee’s learning about and wrestling with his former allies is gripping stuff.

Harry Harrison touched on similar ground in Rebel in Time, which has its good points. Turtledove’s should be a film, Harrison’s should be a TV movie – that’s the difference.

Consider her Ways, by John Wyndham
A surprisingly uncomfortable, early feminist tale from an author best known for his “cosy British” catastrophe stories.

Mission, by Patrick Tilley
In which we learn that Jesus Christ, after his crucifixion, spent the time he wasn’t appearing to the disciples in Israel appearing to a twentieth century lapsed Jewish lawyer in Manhattan. Best line, as Jesus helps a mugging victim: Cop, “Are you a doctor?” Jesus, “No, I’m a rabbi, but I do first aid.”

“Vintage season”, by C.L. Moore
Another potentially tough find, but well worth the trouble: a short story first published in 1946 and which could have been written yesterday for its freshness and insight. The ability to travel into history would come with awesome responsibilities: could everyone be trusted to use them properly? And why should they care what we think, anyway?

Tom’s Midnight Garden, by Philippa Pearce
A charming read for adults, and one that will accustom young minds (who are, let’s face it, the target audience) to the implications of time travel: the natural timespans cut into chunks, the ability for pre-knowledge of someone else’s future, even the potential for paradox.

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis
Connie Willis is astonishingly good at writing what seems like lightweight fluff until you dig all the heavy issues involved. This has English nitwittery à la Jerome K. Jerome, the bombing of Coventry, love, class struggle, free will vs pre-determination, and the novel thesis of the time-space continuum being a self-ordering entity along the same deterministic lines of an Agatha Christie novel.

“Pages out of order”, by Ben Jeapes
If you’re going to do your own Web site, what’s to stop you doing some self-plugging? Seriously, this story (published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 1997) is the story I’m proudest of. It also appears along with many other good titles on, a list of stories featuring time travel within one’s own body